A fearsome pressure was exerted from the powerful monster. Even surrounded and tied down with heavy weights, Granin couldn't help but take a step back as that voice echoed in his mind through their link. He swallowed hard and sought to quickly clarify himself.
[You've spoken to one of my order before. A Kaarmodo, named Ivran'tep?]
[The Wizard Lizard? You know him? You're a member of his… conclave… thingy?]
The Golgari shaper felt his skin itch. The tone of the monster was light, airy, but from it he sensed a dangerous and potent air. The dichotomy of impressions was enough to put him on edge.
[Yes and no. I don't have much time, so I must speak quickly. Will you give me a moment?]
[Do I have much choice?]
[You do. It's not our intention to force you, but circumstances have forced my hand.]
[Alright then, Stone Man. I'm listening.]
Granin secretly took a calming breath as he put his thoughts in order.
[My people are called the Golgari and among us those who wield magic are called Shapers and we are regarded beneath those who employ the warrior arts.]
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[I won't disagree, but it is important I explain this so you understand the dynamics of this hunting party and the reason we have sought you. I must urgently tell you that I am not in charge of this expedition and not all of my people here are members of the cult. I want you to come alive, but others would be happy to see you dead. I encourage you to cooperate, even though it may not seem to be in your best interests, as otherwise you will surely perish.]
He was mostly thinking of the imminent arrival of their moronic leader to break the legs of this precious specimen.
[Keep talking and I'll think about it.]
[… As you say. Let me quickly tell you how I came to be here. The cult enclave where I study was contacted by Ivran'tep because we were the closest members to where it was assumed you would travel. He told us he had identified a promising candidate monster and that we should attempt to be aware of your progress and growth. Normally the matter would drop there, it's not our policy to attempt to force a monster to ascend, but circumstances have taken a dramatic change recently.]
[So you and the Kaarmodo are members of the same group?]
A brief hesitation. How to explain several thousand years of interconnected history between secret societies?
[Sort of,] he hedged, [you could think of us as branches of the same organisation. More accurately, my cult and the conclave are separate entities that share common purpose.]
[You want to raise the twentieth ancient.]
[Exactly. So we cooperate. Since you were known to be coming into our sphere of influence, he passed his knowledge of you onto us.]
[Which led to me being hunted down like an animal… how?]
[I was getting to that…]
"Step aside, Shaper," came the cold and superior tones of Balta.
Stifling a groan, Granin raced to inform the monster of what was happening.
[This idiot is the warrior leader of the expedition. I cannot overrule his commands in the field, even though I represent the people who funded it. He has demanded that we cripple you for the journey.]
[Journey? Cripple?! Talk fast rock-face. I can take this guy down and all of us will go with him if I don't like what I hear!]
Such a claim was bold, but considering the strange magic the monster was able to employ, not impossible.
[He wants to break your legs, I think. That will make it harder for you to escape as we transport you back to the custody of the cult. No further harm will come to you on this trip, I give my word.]
[What about after this trip? I suppose it's all beach chairs and milkshakes after that? I'll trust you, but I want something in return.]
"Lazus. Step to one side so I can ensure the safety of our expedition. You wouldn't want to be accused of standing between a warrior and the execution of their duty, would you?"
Granin cursed under his breath.
[What is it, monster? Quickly!]
[Find my pets, heal them and bring them with us.]
The old Golgari broke the link and stepped away from the giant ant before he turned to the warrior leader, dipping his head in a show of respect.
"I have been able to subdue the monster to some degree. You will find it cooperative. I do not believe that it is necessary to inflict harm upon it. The Circle of Shapers seeks to bring the beast in alive, after all. My triad are more than willing to take over responsibility for the safe handling of the monster."
Coriinam Balta was in no mood to placate a member of a lesser profession. He waved a hand dismissively in the older Golgari's face and promptly ignored him. He stepped toward the monster and unsheathed his blade, the soft ring of steel resounded in the air and the low light reflected from the perfectly imbued blade. Balta was eager for this moment. Not only had the monster embarrassed him by escaping from in front of his face, he'd been forced to rely on the Shapers twice. Once to locate it again and twice to ensure it was captured. He would strike back now to put both offending parties in their place.
Granin stifled his protests as the blade struck twice, the sword light flashing expertly along each side of the monster, severing it's legs cleanly.
Balta wasn't sure what he expected the creature's reaction to be, but he was sure it wasn't what he got, which was, nothing. The creature remained perfectly still, its antennae still, its eyes alert and staring. There was a moment of tense silence as the warriors waited for a violent response from this beast, but none was forthcoming. Disgruntled, Balta sheathed his blade and it was at that moment the ant gradually opened its mandibles and then snapped them shut.
It repeated the gesture with the same deliberate pace, over and over.
*Clack*… *Clack*… *Clack*… *Clack*… *Clack*…
As each sound rang out like soft, repeated laughter Balta's face become uglier. Finally he snapped and ripped the blade from his sheath in a rage.
"You dare to mock me, beast?!?!"
The great two handed sword swept down faster than the eye could see, the blade light flashing out in a blinding arc to slice directly into the face of the ant. So unexpected was this behaviour that all stood frozen in shock as the blow struck home. Granin himself was filled with despair that turned to relief and the light cleared to show the ant stood as it had before, a small scratch carved into its carapace right between its eyes. Even as the stunned crowd watched, the small groove began to heal itself, filling up with a thick fluid that began to harden into fresh exo-skeleton. This time, Granin could not contain himself and burst out at the expedition leader.
"Balta! I insist that you refrain from attacking the creature. We are specifically tasked with returning it, alive!"
The silver speckled Golgari warrior stood breathing heavily with rage still in his eyes as he witnessed the poor efficacy of his strike. Even with its legs severed, the creature seemed to watch him, completely unafraid. Before the shocked eyes of the hunting party, the mandibles once again slowly opened wide before snapping shut.
*Clack*… *Clack*… *Clack*